Healthy Sports Arizona 2

Scottsdale, Ariz., is a growing suburb of Phoenix. Judging from the number of high-end car dealerships, including Rolls Royce and Ferrari, the average income is well above the poverty level. The sun is always shining and there seems to be no bugs. It is home to Arizona State University and serves as the spring training base of the San Francisco Giants.

Don and Charlie’s is a restaurant in Scottsdale known for good food, sports memorabilia, and famous patrons. Knowing this, it was still shocking when my party was seated at a table next to a group that included Muhammad Ali.

Despite being afflicted with Parkinson’s disease, his personality still captures the attention of all. Unable to sign autographs, after finishing his meal he spent time posing for pictures with young children who will certainly one day appreciate the importance of that moment. When Ali finally rose to exit the restaurant, every patron stood and respectfully gave a standing ovation.

Many years of intense physical training will reduce the chance of disease but will not impart immunity. Neurologic diseases like Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis and Lou Gehrig’s disease will seriously impair motor function.

Some patients, especially those who have spent much of their lives in the limelight, may retreat to a solitary existence when faced with chronic illness. Much has to do with vanity over their more frail appearance. Others transcend their physical infirmities and continue to contribute to society in a different role. So often, those with strong personalities won’t allow themselves to take a step back. Studies have shown these groups of people always have better outcomes when fighting disease. When polled, they also report a better quality of life.

As in all professions, sports has its heroes and villains. On this night in Scottsdale, Muhammad Ali once again rose up and demonstrated to all present why he is still “The Greatest.”

If you wish to learn more about the Healthy Sports Tour, listen to the podcast or go to the blog at The William W. Backus Hospital or

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